Why ‘Gunsmoke’ Icon James Arness Gifted a $2 Million Ranch to Neighborhood Kids

All those Gunsmoke episodes paid off for Matt Dillon actor James Arness. The TV marshal used his earnings to buy a $2 million ranch in 1960. But once his kids grew up, Arness surprised everyone by giving it away. We shudder to think what John Dutton would have to say about that.

However, unlike the formidable Yellowstone character, Arness didn’t have any generational attachment to the property as he only held onto it for 12 years.

Located on 1,400 acres of land in Simi Valley, California, the Gunsmoke star’s former ranch is owned by the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. And it was the work they did with local Jewish youth that motivated Arness to donate the property in the first place.

Before he let go of it, though, James Arness and his family got plenty of use out of the ranch. The Matt Dillon actor maintained horses his kids delighted in riding. But after a decade of appreciation and plenty of memories, the Arness kids were grown up.

Over the years, James Arness took notice of the neighboring property. It was a youth retreat for Jewish kids from the area. He wasn’t getting very much use out of the place himself. So he figured it’d be of better service in the institute’s hands.

“He spent a lot of time there and became aware of the impressive work done by the camp,” Arness’ lawyer said of the Gunsmoke star’s generous act.

And it’s not like Arness had any religious affiliation with the neighboring camp. He simply liked what they were doing for kids and chose to contribute.

“It was a very ecumenical act of philanthropy by Mr. Arness, who is not himself Jewish,” the president of the institute told The Orlando Sentinel in the early 1970s.

The ‘Gunsmoke’ Star Gifting His Ranch Away Was Not Out of Character

By all accounts, James Arness was a well-liked and generous individual. His Gunsmoke co-star Ken Curtis once credited him as the reason for the show’s incredibly long run.

“I’ve seen many shows go down the drain because the star becomes impossible and disliked by everyone. He’s terrific to work with. When the time comes to buckle down to work, he’s ready,” the Festus actor said.

And the Matt Dillon actor was liked for good reason. A perfect example of this is Arness going to bat for his stuntman Ben Bates year after year. The TV icon insisted that his stuntman get a raise every year, and when their working relationship finally came to an end, Arness left Bates with a priceless gift—Matt Dillon’s Colt .45 from Gunsmoke.

“‘You mean more to me than putting this into a museum somewhere,’” were the words Bates recalled Arness saying. “You can imagine how that made me feel.”

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